When Limavady Wolfhounds GAC were asked to field a ladies team for the All Ireland Feile in 2010, they never thought what was hastily “thrown together” would lead to something big.
Admittedly, it wasn’t a strong squad.
It was 18 players used to playing camogie, and girls who played with boys at under age level.
But, to the surprise of all, “the girls fell in love” with the game and asked if it could continue.
Fast forward almost six years “and we haven’t looked back,” says Tracy Hartin, a founding member of the ladies football at Wolfhounds GAC.
Tracy said interest in ladies football at the club has rocketed since then, with numbers almost five times what they were in 2010. There are close to 100 players from U8 level up to Senior level, and several players have made the team sheet for the Oakleaf county at various levels.
What had been a male-only club for some time, said Ann Hassan, has proudly supported the ladies who she said receive great support from management, including former chairman, and current President Seán Bradley.
Ann grew up playing camogie for Glack, and never really had an interest in football until her sons started playing. Her sideline support soon developed though and, before she knew it, she was helping out on the pitch. She is currently an U16 coach and is involved with ladies football at County level.
“We have girls playing for the county at U14 and U16 levels, and senior player Cara Farren plays for Derry. It was opened up to junior clubs and that’s how Cara Farren got on to the senior team. They are all great ambassadors for the Club,” said Ann.
“Even when they’re not playing, the girls are watching the boys playing.
“They love the craic and they live for Gaelic days and Gaelic nights. The boys see they have as much talent as they do, and some of the coaches say the girls could take on the boys any time.”
Ann and Tracy point out how far ladies football at the Club has come on, with the U14s reaching three County Club championship finals in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and coming home to the Roe Valley as champions in 2014.
A number of the girls have lined out for Derry at U14 and U16 levels winning Ulster titles. The Club is marking their presence on the Derry County GAA scene, something that was lacking before.
Ann says the Club represents players from across the community, with girls coming from Loreto College in Coleraine, St. Mary’s, Limavady, Limavady Grammar and Limavady High School.
“As much as it’s about winning and improving, it’s about having fun and about their health and well being,” said Ann. “I suppose it is like a family because their parents know they are being well looked after. It’s also good for their confidence. We’ve seen girls come at the start and they have so little confidence. It’s great to see that improve.”
Among the players are the McIlroy sisters - Toiréasa (17), Niamh (16), Leonie (14) and Meghan (13) from Limavady.
They say the camaraderie among the girls is strong, and football and the Club is a big part of their lives. When asked why they love it so much they speak of the lasting friendships they’ve made.
Saoírse Hassan, who celebrates her 15th birthday this weekend, is another Club and County player.
Saoírse, who plays at half forward, grew up watching her brothers play, and loves being part of the Wolfhounds Club. Along with the McIlroy sisters, Saoírse and a number of others girls, have experience of playing, and sometimes winning, for their County, something they all say they are really proud of.
As for the future, the Club is fundraising under the banner of the Nifty150 campaign to develop facilities, something Seán Bradley says will support the whole Club, right through from U8 to the senior teams, including ladies football.
In the meantime, Ann and Tracy want to nurture and develop the talent coming through the Club, although they admit they’d like to pick up a few pieces of silverware and titles along the way.
They welcome anyone interested in ladies football to come along to their grounds at Scroggy Road and see what it’s all about, or contact them via the Limavady Wolfhounds GAC Facebook page.